PISA – more than just league tables?

Parliament house flag post

PISA – more than just league tables?

Posted 12/09/2012 by Carol Ey



Image source: Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development 
In announcing the Government’s response to the Gonski Review, Prime Minister Gillard statedthat the aim of the new National Plan for School Improvement ‘is to ensure that by 2025 Australia is ranked as a top 5 country in the world for the performance of our students in Reading, Science, Mathematics’.

Much of the discussion about the Australian school system has focussed on the relative (and absolute) decline of Australia in the results from the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) over the period 2000 to 2009 despite an increase in real expenditure on school education of 44 per cent over the period. In considering how the school system can be improved, commentators have often looked to the current ‘top 5’ in the PISA rankings—Finlandand the four East Asian jurisdictions included in the 2009 survey (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Korea and Singapore).

However, closer analysis of the PISA data suggests that using the PISA assessment league tables may not be the best measure of the quality of school systems.
Under the PISAprogram, every three years since 2000 a sample of 15-year-old students around the world have been assessed on their reading, mathematics and science performance. For PISA 2009, some 470 000 students participated, representing about 26 million 15-year-olds in 65 countries. In addition to assessing performance, the students and school principals were asked a range of questions about the school and home environments, as well as students’ attitudes to various aspects of schooling. Testing has recently been undertaken for the 2012 Australian PISA sample.

In considering Australia’s relative decline in the ranking lists, it is worth noting that in 2000 only 32 countries took part in the study, while 65 countries participated in 2009. Part of the reason Australia appears further down the ranking lists is the inclusion of countries which have not previously been included in the results. For example, Shanghai and Singapore participated in PISA for the first time in 2009.
While Australia’s absolute scores have also declined, the results for Finland have experienced a similar reduction across all three areas. In fact, almost all the non-Asian countries that were ranked ahead of Australia in the initial 2000 results have seen a decline in their performance across each of the three subject areas assessed, largely driven by the poorer performance of high-achieving students. This suggests causes outside the direct influence of the Australian education system. Possible explanations include a decline in reading for pleasureamong teenagers or an inability to focus on extended texts due to an increasing exposure to reading on the Internet.

In addition, while PISA attempts to assess the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems, it does not include any measure of the impact of formalised learning outside schools. For many students in the top ranked East Asian school systems this forms a considerable part of their learning experience, in some cases exceeding their exposure to the school system. 

For example, a 2011 article in Time Magazine reported that Korean authorities had introduced a curfew to prevent students studying in private tutoring academies past 10 pm. A typical academic schedule for many students in senior high school starts at 8 am and continues sometimes until 1 am. In 2010, 74 per cent of students had some form of private after-school education, at an average cost of USD2600 per student per year. A recent Gratton Institute report noted that, ‘Korea spends much less per student than other education systems, yet achieves far better student success’. However, this analysis does not include the private tutoring costs, which would increase the per capita expenditure for secondary students by around 30 per cent.

Even if the Australian education system (and its students) were prepared to accept such an approach in order to achieve high results on assessment tests, there remains the question about how valid these tests are as an overall gauge of the success of an education system. In the 2003 PISA study students were asked how useful they thought their schooling was for later life. Eighty-four per cent of Australian students agreed with the statement that, ‘School has taught me things which could be useful in a job’, compared with only 66 per cent of students from Korea and Hong Kong. On the other hand, only 6 per cent of Australian students thought school had been a waste of time, as against 10 per cent of Korean students and 13 per cent of those from Hong Kong.[1]

PISA also includes measures of the equity of the school system. One measure is the spread of scores from the 5th to the 95th percentile, indicating the extent to which the education system supports those at the lower end of academic ability. Although Australia’s performance on this measure is poorer than the OECD average, it is similar to that of Singapore on both reading and scientific literacy, and better than all four East Asian systems in relation to mathematical literacy.

Another measure is the relationship between student background and educational achievement. PISA reports on the socio-economic gradient of school systems to assess their relative equity. On this measure Australia is rated as ‘Average Equity’ for reading, significantly lower than Hong Kong and Finland, but similar to Korea, Shanghai and Singapore.

There is no doubt that PISA provides a very rich source of information about students’ experience of education in countries around the world, as well as the influence of home and school factors. However, it may be misleading to only use the PISA results in reading, mathematics and science as a summary of the success or otherwise of the Australian education system.

[1] Programme for International Student Assessment, Learning for Tomorrow’s World: First Results from PISA 2003’, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2004, p. 126




Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan. We will close comments after three months.




Captcha
Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

Refugees asylum climate change immigration Australian foreign policy parliament social security welfare policy elections welfare reform school education health financing Australian Defence Force emissions trading indigenous Australians women higher education private health insurance people trafficking illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 United Nations Employment Asia disability income management Middle East Medicare Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics sport health forced labour federal budget Afghanistan Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health United States aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency steroids World Anti-Doping Agency National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Criminal Law Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling transport debt taxation international relations constitution New Zealand food WADA Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme pensions public service reform children's health Aviation foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP ASADA Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships corruption coal seam gas customs planning federal election 2013 Australian Electoral Commission doping OECD crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy welfare ASIO intelligence community terrorist groups Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court Higher Education Loan Program HECS military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union Federal Court family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs UK Parliament welfare systems Indonesia social media children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy science social inclusion human rights paternalism Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse terrorism World Trade Organization Australia public health China housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions domestic violence export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing election results by-election expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership voting Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats research and development new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare ADRV Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics violence against women language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional mental health alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran transparency ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly national security smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid disability employment Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct integrity retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP Tasmania world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea fuel rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition standards conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office NATO work-life balance

Show all
Show less